Smartwatch screen too small? Use your arm as a virtual touch interface
Touchscreens make modern mobile tech possible, and while they work great on phones and tablets, usability understandably takes a hit when we shrink screen sizes down to the smartwatch level. Sure, basic gestures and tap interactions still work, but with a screen that small, it's tricky to do anything more detailed. If only we had a larger surface to work with! One group of researchers may have cracked that nut, as they share their system that effectively uses your whole arm as a touch-sensitive panel for your smartwatch.
The SkinTrack system combines sensors in the watch itself with a special ring worn on the other hand, emitting a harmless high-frequency electrical signal through your fingers. Detecting that signal lets the watch track finger position, which it can do with acceptable accuracy.
That opens the door for some smartwatch functionality that would otherwise be really tricky on a tiny watch touchscreen. For instance, we've seen keyboard software that runs on a smartwatch, but it's still a tight squeeze. If users are instead able to swipe-type words on an imaginary keyboard extending across their arm (maybe with on-screen feedback to show them where they're pointing), text composition on a smartwatch starts becoming a lot more viable. You could even trace-out individual letter shapes, using your arm like a pad of paper.
Even regular gesture interactions can be a lot more natural when we're doing them on a scale that feels familiar from our smartphone usage, rather than shrunken-down to smartwatch size; instead of pinching to zoom right on a watch's screen, you could instead perform the same gesture on the back of your hand.
The technology is flexible enough to work through clothing, so this isn't only a solution practical in warmer months. It's not without its limitations, though, not the least of which is power consumption, but it sure makes for a neat proof of concept.
source: Zhang, Zhuo, Laput, Harrison via The Verge